Why is it so common for boys and young men to lack direction? Their potential seems limitless, yet they just can’t generate the motivation to get off the ground. So often I run into father’s and grandfathers expressing how they are at the end of their rope with a young man in their life who “doesn’t seem to get it”. They waste time on apparently fruitless or even destructive activities. Prioritizing; video games, time with friends and possibly even drugs and alcohol over responsibilities in their lives. No matter how much suffering they seem to cause in their own life, and for others, nothing seems to break the cycle. When asked what they want to do with their life, they painfully respond “I don’t know!” This is extraordinarily common, and the positive truth is that in most cases, these young men do want to find motivation to make something of themselves. The problem is they are searching for motivation in the wrong place. Material motivation.
Material motivation may seem like it is the highest priority in a young man’s life. They are constantly bombarded with the logic, “clean yourself up, so you can get a job and buy nice things! Once you have a job and nice things a girl might tolerate your worthless butt!”. While this contains some truth, and is seemly consistent with what the young man wants, I can assure you it is not all he is looking for. What he is looking for is purpose.
Purpose transcends the material motivations they are presented with. Purpose is a reason to exist which is valued and respected but can not be bought. Finding a woman because you have money or a job is far less meaningful than finding a woman because you are virtuous and respectable and have earned money and a job because of those things. It is not the possession of material things that will bring you happiness. Young men have been led by carrot and stick throughout their childhood in school and at home. This tactic has made them resentful and rebellious. What they want is something intrinsic and meaningful to lead themselves by. This is why they often seem so ready to tell you where to shove the carrot and stick when you are trying to motivate them.
Instead of material motivation, consider presenting grand in scale concepts of responsibility to young men. Big picture, non-physical questions of virtue and meaning are what the young man is searching for answers to. And it is their responsibility to seek those answers to better themselves, and it is the responsibility of experienced men to guide them in finding those answers. Every young man must also be taught there is way more to them than they think there is and they have something necessary and vital to contribute to the world, and if they don’t contribute it things will happen that aren’t good, and the world will become a worse place. Young men are starving for this message. Stop being a victim and become the hero of your own story. There is a reason that for the entirety of human civilization the hero story has been formatted the same way.
Countless stories, plays, works of art, and religious texts convey the metaphysical truths men seek. A good place to start could be with classic stories of good and evil. Let’s examine the story of St. George for example.
Our hero St. George lives behind the walls of a sturdy castle. His castle represents order and stability. All is well until a dragon shows up out of the unknown wilderness and jeopardizes the order of the castle, capturing a virgin and flying off with her into the wilderness. The wilderness from which the dragon comes, represents the chaos of the unknown world. The virgin represents that which is of value to St. George. And the dragon itself represents what is dangerous and unpredictable living in chaos.
In search of that which is of value, St. George must leave the comfort and safety of the castle and venture out into the wilderness. He finds the dragon guarding the virgin and must slay it to be victorious and claim the virgin.
Now, dragons and virgins aside, the story contains objective truth which men have been attempting to convey and pass on since before there was written word.
The true purpose of every young man is to take responsibility in bringing order out of chaos in his own life. In order to obtain that which is most valuable and cannot be bought, he must leave his comfort zone, venture out into the unknown and confront what is causing chaos in his life. In many cases, it is himself and his dragon is of his own making.
I’ll admit, this isn’t always the case. Certainly, the destructive nature of the world can come from out of nowhere. Being blindsided by betrayal or by unexpected tragedy can also bring chaos into a young man’s life.
What is most heroic and respectable is not that St. George found a women. What is most heroic is how he did it. He left his comfort zone, ventured into the dangerous unknown and made order out of chaos. Because of that he is valued. It must be conveyed to young men that the virtue is in the journey and what is extracted from it. How a young man carries himself through the journey is what makes him virtuous. Being respectful to all, finding purpose through responsibility, and displaying toughness when met with challenges is what makes a man masculine.